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Allegory of the return of the Bourbons on April 24, 1814: Louis XVIII raising France from its ruins.
© Photo RMN-Grand Palais
Publication date: March 2016
The restored monarchy
No one would have dreamed of restoring the Bourbons to the throne of France if the defeat and then the abdication of Napoleon had not created a political vacuum necessary to be filled, nor, above all, if the Allied Powers and in particular Russia had clearly not expressed their choice in this direction. It was this special moment that the painter Louis-Philippe Crépin illustrated shortly after in this allegorical composition.
A traditional allegory
Crépin was not one of the major artists of the time. Enlisted in the Republican Navy, where he served from 1794 to 1798, he thus acquired first-hand knowledge, which he was able to make extensive use of in his career as a painter. A continuator of Joseph Vernet, of whom he had been a student, he specialized in painting seascapes, where he achieved certain success. Thanks to the protections he enjoyed (in particular those of the princes of Orleans), he maintained the aesthetic principles of the 18th century very early in the century, of which he gives a perfect illustration in this painting.
He quickly worked on this work in order to exhibit it at the Salon of 1814, which opened in early fall. Also his painting is not very innovative both in its design and in its execution: Louis XVIII, in coronation costume but bearing the Order of the Garter which he received by special decree on April 21, 1814, supports France which s 'collapses in his arms. At his side the Duchess of Angoulême, wife of one of the sons of the Count of Artois, but also daughter of Louis XVI, represents the dynastic continuity and makes the link with the Ancien Régime (she was also the first lady of the royal family, because the wives of Louis XVIII and his brother had died and she had married the one who was to inherit the throne after her uncle and her stepfather). The Duc d'Angoulême, his brother the Duc de Berry and their father the Count d'Artois are obviously present, as are the other princes of the blood, the Prince de Condé who had commanded against the Republic the army of emigrants and his son, the Duke of Bourbon. Of the entire royal family, only the Duke of Orleans, the future Louis-Philippe, who was to blame for his father, Philippe-Egalité, who voted at the Convention for the death of his cousin Louis XVI was absent. Against the historical truth, because they were not present in Calais, Crépin also represented the four main allied sovereigns who allowed the restoration of the Bourbons to the throne: Tsar Alexander I, Emperor of Austria Francis I, the King of England George III and King of Prussia Frederick William III. Behind them the marshals of France. The restored king cipher (two interlaced "L" s) forms a medallion in the center of the composition.
Crépin uses the most traditional vocabulary here (nymphs and children in the foreground, overturned weapon trophies which mark the return of the benefits of peace ...). The meaning of the different characters comes almost from their mere presence in a composition that is also very classic: contemporaries were able to identify the actors in the scene, and the events still nearby were understandable by all. Louis XVIII acceding to the throne is clearly represented as the providential savior of France. But the picture thereby manifests, if not a certain awkwardness, at least an almost complete absence of invention and personality. However, it is not very representative of the real talent of Crépin, who is here for the occasion.
- Louis XVIII
- Louis Philippe
André CHASTEL French Art volumes III and IV, Paris, Flammarion, new ed. 2001 Francis DEMIER 19th century France Paris, Le Seuil, coll. "Points Histoire", 2000.François FURET The Revolution, 1780-1880 Paris, Hachette, 1988, reed. "Pluriel" collection, 1992.Evelyne LEVER Louis XVIII Paris, Fayard, 1988.Emmanuel de WARESQUIEL and Benoît YVERT History of the Restoration: birth of modern France Paris, Perrin, 1996.
To cite this article
Barthélemy JOBERT and Pascal TORRÈS, "Allegory of the Return of the Bourbons on April 24, 1814: Louis XVIII raising France from its ruins"